Scandal of the billions ‘wasted’ on NHS reforms

Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley
Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley
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Billions of pounds were wasted on the coalition Government’s “damaging and distracting” NHS reforms, a thinktank warns today.

In a series of damning criticisms, the King’s Fund branded the shake-up “misguided”, creating an “unwieldy” structure that is “not fit for purpose” and had created more bureaucracy.

But the report said there had been a significant change in approach by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt as he presided over “damage limitation” and a “welcome shift away from technocratic changes”. It said claims of widespread privatisation were exaggerated.

Labour seized on the report claiming the reforms had “harmed patient care”.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “People will remember patients, nurses, doctors and midwives lining up in their thousands and pleading with the Government to call it off. But they ploughed on and plunged the NHS into the chaos we see today. The sad truth is that by turning the NHS upside down and causing a crisis in A&E, David Cameron has made care problems more likely, not less.”

Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, said: “The damage done to the NHS has been profound and intense, but what is needed now is an honest and frank debate over how we can put right what has gone wrong without the need for another unnecessary and costly top-down reorganisation.”

King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham said the coalition’s first three years were “wasted” due to a “misguided focus on organisational changes”.

“The NHS therefore at the end of the parliament is experiencing both financial pressures and challenges in hitting targets that matter to patients because time, effort and money that should have been spent on patient care has been diverted into complex organisational changes,” he said.

Mr Ham said he agreed with the view that the organisation of the NHS is “not fit for purpose”, adding: “Nobody starting with a blank sheet of paper would end up creating anything like this.

“It was more fit for purpose before the reforms. It wasn’t a perfect structure in 2010, but it was less imperfect than the one we have to work with now.

“Nobody is in charge locally. There is not a body ... that has the oversight of how the NHS is run at a regional level or at an area level that can bring all these organisations together and try and get a common approach to dealing with financial and performance problems. I think from the Government’s point of view that is a huge, huge risk.”

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said: “We welcome the King’s Fund’s recognition that the Government’s focus on patient safety and integrated care is right for the NHS’ future.

“This independent assessment also puts paid to Ed Miliband’s myth that the reforms were about privatisation and highlights why both the public and the health sector should be wary of Labour’s plans for upheaval and reorganisation.”